Pregnant doctor faces hard questions

The pandemic altered Dr. Annemarie Cardell's life in many ways, changing the way she lives, the way she works, even changing her pregnancy.

“It really changed the conversation from ‘No, I don't need to talk about ideal plans, or what magical birth plan I might want,” to ‘I just wanted a healthy baby,’” Cardell remembers.

An emergency physician at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, she felt compelled to stay on the job in the hospital’s busy emergency room as the virus began to hit New York City hard back in February.

She was six-months pregnant.

"It felt very much like, this is what I signed up for," Cardell remembers.  "This is my job."

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Cardell found herself in full protective equipment, working with an endless flow of patients coming in with suspected COVID-19 infections.

"We had a case that was positive, found on an accidental belly scan," she says.  "So, (they) came in for belly pain, got a CT of the abdomen, and we found the bottom of the lungs looked like COVID."

She wasn't directly treating the patient, but Cardell suspects that was how she was exposed to the virus.

"I never had a fever," she says.  "I had a little bit of a cough.  But, I was pregnant, and, I was, like, third-trimester pregnant.  So, without a fever, I just kept working."

Cardell's symptoms were mild, but the experience unnerved her and her husband.

"We spent the rest of the time worrying about, "Is the baby okay, what does this mean for the baby," Cardell says.  "At the time, I relied on the fact that the data showed that pregnancy is probably protected, and the baby is probably okay.  Probably is probably as good as we had at the time."

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In April, Cardell tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, a sign that she had been previously exposed to the virus.

By May, as her due date approached, the hospital where Cardell had planned to give birth told her she would have to deliver alone.

Because of the outbreak, her husband would not be allowed to accompany her inside the facility.

Cardell says that is when they decided to change plans.

"Because, while I'm a doctor, and I know what to expect during delivery, I was scared," she says.

She wanted her husband by her side.

So, 38 weeks pregnant, she and and husband packed up their dogs and drove 860 miles from Brooklyn to Milton, Georgia, moving in with Cardell's parents.

With just two weeks to go, she had to find a new OB-GYN and a new hospital.

"I was really scared, initially, that no one would want me as their patient," Cardell says.

Cardell ended up at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, where Dr. Stephanie Grogan is Chairperson of the OBGYN Department.

Grogan says she has delivered the babies of several COVID-19 patients.

"What we have seen so far is very little risk of vertical transmission, which means passing of the virus from mom to baby, while the baby is still in the uterus," Dr. Grogan says.  "So, that's an overall good thing.  But we're still learning about how the virus works."

Northside, like many hospitals, now screens each patient being admitted for delivery for COVID-19.

Cardell, who knew she had been exposed months earlier, worried she still might be still be shedding the virus, causing her to test positive.

"Then, then the day of (the delivery), the conversation was, 'Okay, if I swab positive, are you going to take my baby away?'" she says.  "Because that's what I didn't want.  I know the risks to my baby, and I know the risks of taking by baby away.  I'm not comfortable with you taking my baby away because of some perceived risk of COVID that I don't buy."

Cardell was tested for the virus, but was negative.

She gave birth to a healthy baby they named Magnolia on June 5, 2020.

"She's been great," Cardell says.  "She sleeps, she eats, she doesn't cry too much."

Cardell and her husband will drive back to Brooklyn July 12, 2020, where she plans to return to her job.

Nothing had gone as planned, but Annemarie Cardell got her happy ending with Magnolia.

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